Sunday, September 9, 2012

#12 Make My Day.

    During my first year as a teacher I worked with an administrator who took me aside one day and relayed a compliment a student had given me.  It made my day! He went on to advise me that whenever I hear a compliment about a colleague I should 'pass it on' as we don't hear enough of them in teaching.  He also told me to always remember the compliments I have been given as they will help when 'times are tough.'   All these years later I realize that he was absolutely right on both counts.

   If you are the type of person who craves immediate gratification from your work, teaching is probably not a good career choice to make. Generally, the only people who see you work are your students and they aren't always open about their feelings.  Sometimes we don't receive an accolade for months or even years after we have taught a student, and most times we hear nothing. While the educational system judges our performance on statistics there isn't much emotion involved in this feedback.  The best encouragement and recognition comes from the direct compliment. Personally, I find these the most satisfying to receive. Sometimes, the reward for a job well done comes at odd times and in unimagined locations. Here are some of the ones that have stuck with me:

1) A few years ago I am wandering through a video store and young man walks up to me and says,  'Do you remember me?'  (I hate this question!) I scan his face and a sketchy memory surfaces. I say, "I don't remember your name, but I do remember you face.' As it turns out, I had taught him ten years earlier and he and his girlfriend had just graduated as engineers. Then he says,  I loved your class!", "You are the reason I went into engineering."

2)  Last year, I was invited to a surprise party for a friend. We arrive, introductions are almost complete, and one of the guests stops at me and says,  "Are you Mr. Hawkins?, The Mr. Hawkins, we have heard so much about?" It's at times like this that I start to get nervous about what is going to be said next.  Then her husband pipes in and says, "You taught our son Michael?, English, last semester?, He LOVED your class!' 'We are so happy that you taught our son!" I was relieved.  Then she says, 'I want to thank you for teaching our son.' They were very vocal with the accolades and I couldn't have been more flattered.

3)  About ten years ago I took on a student teacher for my English classes. She struggled with some of the classroom management skills, but I was sure she would be a terrific teacher.  I missed her on the last day, but she left me a Thank You card.  "You have been a great associate teacher, you let me be myself."

4) While I am doing a duty in the cafe a girl I have never taught walks up to me, asks if I will help her with an essay she is working on for her English class. I say "Why don't you get your English teacher to help you?" ".... because he sucks!" and "all my friends said you are a good teacher."

5) So, I teach this kid for a whole semester and he never says a word to me the whole time. He brings his books, does very little and finishes with mark in the 40s. The course is over, no exam, so he knows his final mark. On the last day, he lags behind, I ignore him and go about my business. As he picks up his gear and turns to walk out the door, he says, "I liked your course sir, you're a good teacher."

6) Cell phones have become an incessant nuisance for classroom teachers these days. School managers have turned into cowards and refused to support the removal of cell phones from students. So, we have been left to solve the problem by ourselves.  If I catch students using their phones, I take them for the period.  The process can become such a drain on your nerves that some teachers give up. I never do. I took a cell phone away from a girl one time and refused to give is back until the end of class.  She says, "...but none of my teachers take cell phones and keep them for the class." I say, "I'm not like other teachers." And then with some attitude she says,"You know sir, sometimes you have a bit of an attitude problem." Then without looking at me, she starts to walk away and mumbles, "but I like it."

7)  So, I have a parent come in for a parent/teacher interview and we talk for only a minute about his daughter. The rest of the time he asks me questions about how I teach, classroom management stuff.  At the end of the interview he stands up, shakes my hand and says, "I am happy my daughter is in your class, I know she will be in good hands with you."

8) Student teachers arrive in the schools twice a year. A few years ago I noticed one of them as a former student. I said to her, why did you decide to come into teaching? She looked at me and said "You are the one who inspired me to become a teacher."

9)I have taught quite a few classes in elementary architecture and engineering.  During these courses I focus on how structures such as arches, domes work.  I ran into a former student in the theater one night. She smiles, opens her arms and gives me a great big hug and says, "I was in Italy a few years ago and while visiting the Colosseum I thought of you, it was exactly as you described it back in grade ten."  

10) Years ago I had transferred to another school. One day I am walking down a flight of stairs when I run into a student I had taught two years earlier at another school.  She looks really surprised to see me. After a short greeting she says,  "I've been thinking a lot about the things you taught me and they make sense to me now."

   You might think that too many compliments can inflate the ego, but trust me, there are other comments which I will tell you about later, they keep you balanced.  However, it really doesn't matter where you work, a compliment, no matter how small, can make your day. If you have a compliment for a teacher stored up inside your brain somewhere, why not dig it out and share it with them. They will appreciate it.